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Indian Health Service Running Effective Coronavirus Vaccine Campaign

“Indian Health Service” and “effectiveness” don’t often appear in the same sentence without some negative words in between. But Rosebud Sioux President Rodney Bordeaux says IHS is effectively distributing coronavirus vaccines to his people:

When the vaccines came online in December, Rosebud Sioux President Rodney Bordeaux faced a tough choice. He could either go through the state of South Dakota to get them, which in his view hasn’t taken the virus seriously enough, or go with the perennially underfunded IHS; the tribe has a still pending lawsuit over past appalling conditions at the local hospital.

“We were afraid, our people were a lot afraid,” Bordeaux said. “We didn’t have the resources, we thought we’d be getting left behind.”

After a lot of phone calls and lobbying, the tribe rolled the dice and went with the IHS anyway. And Bordeaux said it paid off. Recently the tribe has been vaccinating its communities at near double the rate of South Dakota. An analysis by NPR shows that Rosebud is not unique. Across Indian Country, tribes are getting shots in people’s arms at far faster rates than U.S. averages.

“We’ve even had non-Indian people from Sioux Falls and Omaha trying to get in here to get vaccinated because they can’t get it over there,” Bordeaux said [Kirk Siegler, “Why Native Americans Are Getting Covid-19 Vaccines Faster,” NPR: Morning Edition, 2021.02.19].

Part of IHS’s vaccine advantage is another bane of Kristi Noem’s existence, central planning:

Analysts say it may not be perfect but the IHS is at least a centralized system. In Rosebud there’s an existing database of the some 15,000 people hospital officials are trying to reach during the vaccination campaign. Earlier in the pandemic, they set up an infrastructure for mass testing, so pivoting to vaccinations has gone relatively smoothly [Siegler, 2021.02.09].

Community ownership and pre-pandemic investments in public health care are also helping tribal communities speed vaccinations to their communities. Tribal communities are among leaders in vaccination rates in Minnesota. Nationwide, IHS is delivering vaccines at rates comparable to the leading states. And in this morning’s really loose correlation, Alaska, New Mexico, and South Dakota have the three highest one-dose coronavirus vaccine rates in the nation, and they also have the first-, third-, and fourth-highest percentages of Native Americans in their populations. (Oklahoma has the second-highest Native population percentage and the twelfth-highest vaccination rate.)

So I have to wonder: when the South Dakota Department of Health brags about its leadership in vaccinating South Dakotans against coronavirus, how much credit should they be giving to the tribes and Indian Health Service?

Related Reading: IHS is responding to a pandemic that has hit tribal communities harder than any other ethnic group in the United States:

Randall Akee and Sarah Reber, "American Indians and Alaska Natives are Dying of Covid-19 at Shocking Rates," Brookings Institute, 2021.02.18.
Randall Akee and Sarah Reber, “American Indians and Alaska Natives are Dying of Covid-19 at Shocking Rates,” Brookings Institution, 2021.02.18.

In South Dakota, coronavirus has been more than three times as deadly to our Lakota  neighbors than to our white population:

Randall Akee and Sarah Reber, "American Indians and Alaska Natives are Dying of Covid-19 at Shocking Rates," Brookings Institute, 2021.02.18.
Akee and Reber, 2021.02.18.


  1. mike from iowa 2021-02-22

    Last updated: February 22, 2021, 13:54 GMT
    United States
    Coronavirus Cases:

    1247 bodies joined the drumpf/noem parade yesterday.

  2. Working Together 2021-02-22

    IHS has been working to get teachers in their surrounding communities vaccinated as well. Chamberlain, along with several schools in the south central part of the state (and possibly others) were offered the vaccine after the State delayed the teacher/school staff category. These staff will likely be fully vaccinated by the time the first shot is offered through the State.

  3. jerry 2021-02-22

    It would seem then that the most effective means to deliver medicine is to inoculate yourselves from an oppressive governor virus called NOem.

  4. RST Tribal Member at 57572 2021-02-22

    Received my vaccines from Rosebud IHS. Professional and efficient staff.

    Happy the Tribal Council and President Bordeaux decided to avoid the lying, misleading, dying is for your good, 1 party control, misguided lost or loose morals state governance, lead by the Noem, guided by the trump with narrow minded backsliding state Republican legislators in Pierre. Helped along in Washington by RINO Thrune, spineless Johnson, I thought I leave scandals back in SD Rounds.

    Good thing that I don’t have a strong opinion of South Dakota State or Washington Republicans, yet. Of course November 2022 is coming up soon enough.

  5. mike from iowa 2021-02-22

    As of 10:30 a.m. the state is reporting a total of 332,762 individuals have tested positive for COVID-19 and 5,374 people have died with COVID-19 in Iowa since the pandemic began.

    iowa update.

  6. mike from iowa 2021-02-23

    drumpf/noem body count for 2/22/21…

    Last updated: February 23, 2021, 13:33 GMT
    United States
    Coronavirus Cases:

    1454 bodies added yesterday. Mortality rate 3% still.

  7. Jean Farlee 2021-02-23

    I live on the Cheyenne River Reservation and they (IHS) has been vaccinating everyone for more than a month. This includes non-members. I am grateful to the tribe for that. Otherwise I don’t know when or where I could have got vaccinated. My husband is a veteran and he got notified by mail with a phone number that he could make an appointment. We had already made appointments to get our vaccination at Eagle Butte so he didn’t need to go to the VA.

  8. mike from iowa 2021-02-24

    Last updated: February 24, 2021, 13:46 GMT
    United States
    Coronavirus Cases:

    2/23/21 body count… 2328

  9. mike from iowa 2021-02-25

    Last updated: February 25, 2021, 14:22 GMT
    United States
    Coronavirus Cases:

    3210 moar bodies added to body count.

  10. mike from iowa 2021-02-26

    Last updated: February 26, 2021, 14:13 GMT
    United States
    Coronavirus Cases:

    2465 bodies added yesterday.

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